Tuesday, December 11, 2012
A weekend in jail?
Members of the Screen Australia Board
Level 4, 150 William St
11th Dec 2012
Dear Board Members
Those of you who are not practicing filmmakers may not be aware of just how profound the ramifications are of being banned by Screen Australia. It is the equivalent, in many ways, of being disbarred as a lawyer, struck off as a doctor or shunned by an entire community of your peers in whatever your profession happens to be. What producer, director or any other film person dependent in large part on the good will of Screen Australia (a category that includes most filmmakers) wants to be associated with a filmmaker who has been banned by the Screen Australia Board on the grounds that he has placed Screen Australia staff at risk? If such shunning occurs because a filmmaker has placed Screen Australia staff at risk, because he has intimidated staff, a ban is entirely appropriate and he has only himself to blame. However, as you all know, I have not placed anyone at risk, have not intimidated anyone. That these charges are baseless is borne out by the refusal of Ruth Harley’s and yourselves, as Board members, to provide either myself or the film community with one shred of evidence that I am guilty as charged. Imagine, any and all of you, if allegations of this kind were made about you in a way that damaged your reputation and made it impossible for you to work in your chosen field; the field you had been working in for 40 years. What would you do to see that justice prevailed? What would you not do?
Just as no-one at Screen Australia is allowed to view my 35 minute pilot for CHANTI’S WORLD, (self-funded for 17 years) or read the accompanying documents, because doing so would place them at some kind of risk (!), nor has anyone at Screen Australia been allowed to read the first draft of my screenplay for SHIPS IN THE NIGHT. To do so would, in accordance with Ruth Harley logic, place them also at risk! At risk of what, I ask for the umpteenth time? Why do you refuse to answer this question? How can the Board accuse a filmmaker of placing staff ‘at risk’, find him guilty as charged and ban him as a result of placing staff ‘at risk’ and not identify what the nature of the ‘risk’ is?
Is our industry so awash with great screenplays that Screen Australia can, on Ruth Harley’s whim, exclude an experienced screenwriter from the pool of possible screenwriters to support? SHIPS IN THE NIGHT might be a poorly written screenplay, it may not have, in the opinion of Screen Australia, an identifiable audience or the potential to make a contribution of any value to Australian film culture. Fair enough, but how can Screen Australia make any judgement at all in relation to such questions unless someone within the organization reads the screenplay and the accompanying notes? If anyone at Screen Australia had been prepared to place themselves ‘at risk’ and assess my application they would have read the following regarding SHIPS:
At what point does a director become involved in a project such as this? Ideally, as soon as possible. However, the director has to be the right one for the film and this is a matter for the writer, producer and the director to decide. And it is a decision that necessitates a meeting of minds and a sharing of sensibilities. Once the right director has been found, once a final draft has been prepared that producer, writer and director agree on, the project is the director’s baby – the writer and producer’s job being to support the director in the way s/he wishes to make the film.
I will eventually acquire a co-producer for SHIPS. This is someone whom I and the director agree would be the right person for this particular project. Needless to say this would be someone who loved the project, had faith in both the screenplay and director and has talents in the loaves and fishes department!
At the time I wrote this I did have a director in mind. A talented director. Someone who I felt (wearing my producer’s hat) was ideally suited to the project. She was interested but unable to commit at the time. I did not expect her to commit. The screenplay was still a first draft only, a work in progress. Since I was banned, seven months ago now, this director has not responded to my emails. I can hardly blame her. In an industry such as ours, with Screen Australia run as it is by Ruth Harley, associating her name with mine in any way could be detrimental to her career. For all I know she may well believe that I am the sort of person who places others ‘at risk’ (a proposition that has been ratified by yourselves) and wants nothing to do with me. I can hardly blame her.
The same applies with HONOUR – a project that I had hoped to find an appropriate female director for. Ideally I would have liked to find a director whose cultural and religious background would have made it possible for her to complement my own screenwriting skills. As I wrote in the notes attached to my Oct application to Screen Australia with HONOUR:
Possibly the biggest challenge for a male writer old enough to be Jasmin’s grandfather is to imagine myself into the persona of a 18 year old lesbian Muslim and see the world through her eyes; to feel it with her heart. A challenge to be sure but such challenges are what make screenwriting (indeed any fiction writing) exciting.
Again, whether HONOUR has the potential to be a great screenplay is not for me to decide but surely the decision to either support or not support a project such as this should be made on the quality of the screenwriting and not on the basis of the patently absurd proposition that any member of Screen Australia’s staff who read and assessed it would be ‘at risk’. That the Screen Australia Board endorses this proposition is the single most astounding experience I have had in my entire film career of bureaucratic process divorced from reality!
On Friday 14th Dec I will arrive in the foyer of Screen Australia’s Sydney office in the hope that I will either (a) be provided with evidence of my having intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff or (b) have the opportunity to speak with members of the Screen Australia Board about the ban you have placed on me. The Board may choose to do neither of these but to either (1) give Ruth Harley permission to call the police again and have me arrested during business hours or (2) sit on its hands pretending that a decision to call the police has nothing to do with it and carry on with the Board meeting as though nothing unusual or untoward has happened as the police lead me from the building and place me in a paddy wagon. If arrested again I will, in all likelihood, spend the weekend in jail. A dreadful waste of my time and energy and, in all likelihood, yielding the same result as my arrest a few weeks ago – namely dismissal by a magistrate as not being worthy of his or her attention.
Regardless of the outcome of the court case of 20th Dec I will return in the new year to sit in the foyer again, in hopes that I will, the fourth time around, be provided with evidence of my crimes. If not, I will, I imagine, be arrested again. And so it will go until the Board provides me with the evidence I have been asking for for seven months now: Who have I placed ‘at risk’, how have I placed them ‘at risk’ and when have I placed them ‘at risk’. At some point the number of my arrests for the crime of asking to be provided with this evidence will reach such a level of absurdity that it will attract the kind of attention that will make the Screen Australia Board look very foolish – even if it does, belatedly, find some evidence that it can trot out to defend itself.